On a bright October afternoon, a couple with one child in tow and the other in a papoose-style carrier are hunting for brilliantly colored orange pumpkins at the Hanover Vegetable Farm a few miles southwest of Ashland.
The seasonal produce sells for 99 cents to $10 depending on the size and, as in other pumpkin outlets throughout the Richmond area, Hanover Vegetable Farm offers hayrides, contests and other events.
Where does Virginia stand as a pumpkin grower?
Fair to middling. The crop is seasonal, small but important, says Elaine Lidholm, director of communications at the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
The edible and decorative fruit is grown in every county of the state, although Southwest Virginia’s harvest is the largest and dominates the wholesale market for retailers such as Wal-Mart.
Lidholm doesn't have a figure on the value of the market, but says the state has 200 commercial growers who plant about 3,000 acres of the crop. “It’s minor but significant,” she says.
The country’s biggest grower is Illinois, with 16,200 acres in production, with other big bounty coming from California and Ohio.
Virginia growers, some who plant pumpkins as a sideline to soybean and corn crops, ran into some luck this year, Lindholm says. Pumpkins grow best when August and September are dry.
That was the case until more than a week of heavy rain swept in, causing floods in some areas. Farmers hustled to harvest the crop before rains came. Wet pumpkins in the ground tend to rot quickly.
Lidholm says that that the jack-o'-lantern types of pumpkins are perennially popular but there are many other sorts to choose from. Varieties include green, blue green, peach and white pumpkins. Some are shaped like Cinderella’s carriage rather than the round Halloween style. One type looks like a Creamsickle, white with light orange veining, she says.
The decorative pumpkin market usually shuts down around the first part of November, but sales of pie pumpkins are strong past Thanksgiving.